That Darn Demon 

Henry H. Neff's fantasy fiction for kids mixes magic, mythology, and fear.

A clever modern-day boy is specially selected to attend a secret school whose students, all chosen for their otherworldly talents, train to battle an as-yet-unnamed enemy. Their adventures fill hefty-400-pages-plus works of fantasy fiction. Psst: The school isn't Hogwarts. It's the Rowan Academy, it's in the American Midwest, and the boy is Max McDaniels, whose enrollment begins after he finds an otherworldly tapestry in Chicago's Art Institute.

Published last year, The Hound of Rowan was the first book in San Francisco schoolteacher-author-illustrator Henry H. Neff's Tapestry series. The next (and brand-new) book, which he will discuss at Barnes & Noble (1149 S. Main St., Walnut Creek) on November 8, is The Second Siege, which finds Max and his classmates striving to protect the Book of Thoth from the demon Astaroth, even if it means facing unthinkable dangers in Germany's Black Forest. The son of two art historians, Neff grew up loving art and history, naturally. A few post-collegiate years spent in the business world were ultimately unfulfilling; the road forked and he chose a new career: "I ... decided to rediscover some aspects of myself that I feared might go permanently dormant," Neff remembers, "if I didn't try to create something." He says he isn't sure whether "I've been a good teacher or crafted worthwhile books, but I've enjoyed both tremendously and hope to continue teaching, writing, and drawing as long as they'll let me." While working on books, he uses pencils to draw in sketchpads, sending planned illustrations to his publisher. Once one of these is approved, "I use a lightbox to copy the drawing onto a sheet of Arches 140-pound hot-press watercolor paper: There's something deeply satisfying about carving a clean sheet off the block with a palette knife. I complete the final illustration using dip pens with sharp, scratchy nibs and brushed washes of India ink." While quaffing what he deems "absurd amounts of coffee," he writes his manuscripts on a computer. His first and best critic is someone he's known all his life: "As soon as I finish a chapter, I e-mail it off to my mother, who is a very good sport about my needling demands for instant feedback. She's a saint and a very smart, insightful one at that."

Although comparisons to the Harry Potter books are inevitable, Neff points out that his series isn't "defined solely by spells and wizardry. ... This series offers substantial threads of science fiction, world history, mythology, and folklore from many cultures. I think of it as the literary equivalent of a fusion restaurant: a pinch of this genre, a dash of that genre, delivered with an undercurrent of unflinching realism." 2 p.m.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments will be removed.

Latest in Books

Author Archives

Arts & Culture Blogs

Most Popular Stories

Special Reports

The Beer Issue 2020

The Decade in Review

The events and trends that shaped the Teens.

Best of the East Bay


© 2020 Telegraph Media    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation